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What About Your Walls?

By Carina Hoskisson

I don’t like Greg Olsen.

Well, that’s not true, I’m sure he’s a lovely person, he may even be a gas at dinner parties, but I don’t actually like his art. It’s not my taste. It doesn’t speak to me (in fact, if I’m telling you the most honest thoughts of my heart, sometimes it makes me roll my eyes.) Why? Because my favorite artists are the Abstract Expressionists: Pollack, Kandinsky, Rothko, they’re the artists that speak to my soul. They make my heart flip, and flop, and tears come to my eyes. Representational art has a harder time crossing my emotional barriers.

Maybe tears come to your eyes when you see a Monet. Maybe tears come to your eyes when you see a Friberg. Maybe Greg Olsen connects to you on a viseral level that I’ll never understand. And you know, that’s cool; that’s the great thing about art, you don’t have to like what I like, and I don’t have to like what you do.

I didn’t grow up in a house that displayed traditional LDS artwork. When it came to religious art, my parents were partial to Fra Angelico’s Annunciation and the Renaissance era painters (displayed along side prints of Klimt, the Pre-Raphaelites, Piscasso, and Renoir.) We had a single photograph taken by a family friend of the Salt Lake Temple on display.

Finding religious art that I want to put in my home has been a harder challenge for me. I want to display artwork that pricks my heart or uplifts my soul every time I see it. My sister, a talented photographer, gave me a Provo Temple print that is gorgeous: taken in the winter, every tree is crusted in ice, the mountains behind are glowing blue, and the temple in the middle, rising like the cloud it was meant to be. I recently bought Happy Little Artist’s print of the Salt Lake Temple you see above at a craft show because I loved the feelings I had when I saw the blue and white colors with the strong black lines.

I’d really like to find the names of more artists that are producing religious art. Do you know any? Among my current favorites are J. Kirk Richards (who has a show happening in St. George right now,) and Darren K. Breen, whose Nigel is one of my favorite enduring angels.

Has it been easy for you to find religious art to bring into your home? Which artists are your favorites? Do you display a photograph of your favorite temple and are satisfied? Do you have a portrait of the First Presidency that graces your hallway?

How do you decide if a piece of art is important enough to share with your family and friends?

How do you decide what you put on your walls?

About Carina Hoskisson

Emerita

54 thoughts on “What About Your Walls?”

  1. The trick when it comes to religious art is that I much prefer something that says something to me rather than screams, "RELIGION!" A friend's parent's had a 3'x4'+ painting of Christ's face in their front entry way, and it just didn't have the reverent, personal feel I prefer to my art.

    The only plans I have right now is to hang up a photo of a sealing room window of the San Antonio temple where I was married. It's beautiful and has a lot of personal meaning to me. (Now if the photographer would only deliver the print!)

    I'm looking forward to seeing others artistic preferences.

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  2. Having just spent time in the National Gallery of Art and the Hirschhorn Gallery, both in Washington DC, on opposite sides of the Mall, I know a little about who artists like Mark Rothko (and Yves Klein, and others) are, and I find myself very intrigued by what they are trying and have tried to do in their art.

    It would be fascinating to see some of that energy expended in the direction of religious art. My mind is boggled just thinking about it.

    By the way, when I tried to go beyond the home page of J. Kirk Richards's website (from your link above), my security software told me that it had averted an attack on my computer. I don't know if it was in connection to J. Kirk Richards website or a coincidence, but I thought I'd mention it, just in case.

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  3. I'm generally not a fan of a lot of contemporary religious art and we have very little displayed in our house, except for a few paintings of Jerusalem since my husband and I met there (so they're not really religious for us). But I don't have much art on my walls, period, because they're covered with maps.

    I do have one specific, meaningful piece of religious art on my wall though. It's a wall quilt that my husband designed and I made about 10 years ago that represents Jesus and the Beatitudes. It hangs in the living room instead of a picture of Jesus, or the temple, or a prophet, or a picture of my family (which seems to be religious art for some people) because it represents all of those things for me.

    And can you tell me about the piece of art at the beginning of your post? I'd love it anyways, but that's the view of the Salt Lake temple I had from our last apartment.

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  4. Oh, sorry, I missed the part about the painting (and I thought I'd gone over the post so carefully). Thanks for the link.

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  5. Our walls are decorated with photos I took and quilts I made. There are only a few exceptions to this, one being a carved wooden plaque of Christ with the children I had made on my mission.

    We do have pictures of the temples up, but they are ones I took. In fact, we had to make a special trip to the temple we were married in this month while visiting family in another state so I could get a picture of that temple for our home. Because they are pictures I took they already have personal meaning built in.

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  6. We don't have a lot of art on our walls at all; mostly because we just bought a house after years of apartment living and actually have room on the walls now. We have a large-ish frame with wedding pictures in it and I guess that counts as 'religious'. I do want to have pictures of the Savior in the kids' rooms and we have a framed Minerva Tiechert one, but now that we have two kids' rooms we need another religious picture for the kids' room. I'm also trying to find something that will have the right spirit for them. Most of what we have on the walls has some personal connection: a picture my husband painted in high school, cross stich that I have done, a quilt someone gave us for my baby, etc. My favorite piece is a large painting of a snowman that my daughter did in kindergarten; I thought it was so amazing that I bought a frame at Ikea and hung it up.

    Growing up we didn't really have any religious art that I can remember. Most of what my parents have up is actually enlargements of photos that my dad has taken over the years (they order online really large pictures with foam backing–we have a beautiful sunset in San Diego hanging in our bedroom). I think I would like to have something religiousy in my living room or bedroom but I haven't figured out what yet. During the last few years I've seen some cool stuff from the Church art contest but none of it is available for purchase.

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  7. I don't yet have any religious art hanging in my home. I want to get some soon, but have had a hard time (like you) finding any that really speaks to me. I love that lino print in your post though.

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  8. I waited several years before I put up a picture of "my" temple. I wanted one that spoke to me, that I could point out to my kids and say, "That is a beautiful place," and mean it in so many ways.

    I haven't found one favorite artist (though I'm with you on J. Kirk Richards), but I do find individual pieces that I love. I don't count myself as a Greg Olsen fan either, but his "Sacred Grove" hangs in my home because it makes my Eastern heart sing. I suppose my religious art taste would be rather eclectic: a modern print here, a Renaissance painting there, here a wood engraving, there a b&w photo…so many different genres that inspire me in different ways.

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  9. A topic near and dear to my heart. I graduated in painting from the BYU and this was something that was discussed at length–at least in my classes. Why was Mormon art–especially what is generally featured in the Ensign (not always, some is very nice)–so filled with cheese and over-the-top-ness? Well the easy answer is that's what appeals to most people. Nice, glowy pictures of Jesus holding baby lambs, etc. Part of the issue is that there is a big difference between spiritual art and religious art. Religious art has it's own purpose…I think of it as the difference between what we teach in church on any given Sunday, vs. what you'll read in say a Hugh Nibley text. Church is a time to discuss the basics. Keep things doctrinally sound and focused. I personally think it's important to read and study more in depth doctrines and principle's on one's own time–but not necessarily appropriate to discuss those things in a Sunday setting. I think that's the same reason a lot of mainstream Mormon art is presented to us in a very simple, not overly complex way–it has to be something that even the newest convert can digest. (My personal opinion's here–obviously, but just to make sure we're clear). From my days at the BY there are plenty of thoughtful Mormon artists that go under the mainstream radar, but would be really appealing to a lot of people… for one, my former professor Wulf Barsch is not just a well known LDS painter, but a well known painter internationally. Even winning the very prestigious Prix de Rome in 1975. But if you look at his work, will you think it's religious? No. Spiritual? Again, probably no, but it definitely is–I just don't understand it. (I tried to get some explanations out of him to no avail). But you definitely know it's hitting you on a different level. And there were several students graduating just a few years ahead of me that I can think of and see their paintings in my mind but for the life of me can't remember their names. I do know they've had some great showings at the BYU museum of art featuring some of these talents. I believe the church history museum also has a show each year and features some wonderful, off-the-beaten path Mormon artists. So those might be some good resources to check out. Another well known painter Mormon painter to check out is Brian Kershisnik.

    As for what's on my walls? My own paintings natch. I can't yet bring myself to hang a picture of Jesus or the temple, until I find one (or paint one) I really like. I think the most mainstream painter I like is Minerva Teichert.

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  10. I've still yet to find the picture of Christ that speaks to me. My sister likes Heinrich Hoffman's. I like Christopher Young's artwork. I went to school with Kirk Richards, and love all his other work, but the Christ one is too dark for me. I just went to his page and got the malware thing too. Maybe I'll send him a facebook message, lol! I like Christopher Young's artwork.

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  11. I love the Pre-Raphaelites. I also really liked the colors and style on the image in the post.

    Someone gave us a watercolor print of the St. George temple for our wedding called Refuge from the Storm, by Cortney Lunt. (Seen here: http://www.luntart.com/refuge.html) I guess she has done a bunch of temples in the rain. I like the print because it reminds me of the impressionists, even if it is not a photo-exact reproduction.

    Great post. Thanks.

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  12. you might like casey jex smith; here's an interview about his work: http://goo.gl/dmTX
    and you can also see his work at his website at caseyjexsmith.com.

    he's related to a friend, but i have never met him. his art is very interesting, though.

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  13. I LOVE Greg Olsen's paintings. They adorn my foyer, kitchen and family room. They speak peace to my heart. I find his depictions of the Savior inspired and uplifting. As we celebrate the talents of others–even though they may not resonate with us personally–we also honor our own unique abilities.

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  14. My favorite painting ever of the Savior is by a Russian artist Ilya Repin. It is of Christ raising the daughter of Jairus. I saw it in the Russian Art Museum in St. Petersburg, and it is one of the only paintings to date that has truly spoken to my heart. I had a replica painted, and though it is beautiful, I think for me the special thing about it is that it makes me remember how I felt looking at the original so many years ago.

    Giggles, I love the idea of taking pictures of temples to hang up. I'm definitely going to start doing that, and then I can hang them in my kids' rooms.

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  15. I agree, religious art is very difficult to find. I do love the print of the SL temple that you've shown above. But, I'm not much help as I have the exact same problem.

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  16. Thank you Mollie (comment #9) I just ordered one for myself. I also have Madonna of the Streets in my LR. So love that one too. What is more spiritual than a mother and her child?

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  17. We're way too broke to decorate, but I love Salvador Dali's Last Supper.
    Also, I don't know offhand how to find prints for these artists, but I always find something I love among the winners of the Church History Museum's International Art Competition (http://www.lds.org/churchhistory/museum/competition/1,16118,4091-1-,00.html). There are naturally Olsen and Olsenesque works in there, but there are also a lot of works from different artistic traditions and different styles. It could be a starting point.

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  18. I also dislike Greg Olson art and everything like unto it. LOVE the piece you show here. It looks like a lino print or something, which is one of my favourite mediums.

    I have some photos in my bathroom that I bought on Etsy, one a B&W of the Salt Lake temple doorknob, one an angled photo of just the doors. I have a fab letterpress print of the Salt Lake temple by Cameron Moll where the temple is made up of letters and flourishes and other characters. My only complaint about it is that the paper isn't very thick and meaty so you can hardly tell it's letterpress. Google it, Carina, and let me know if you like. And no. We don't have any photos of church leaders.

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  19. We call the contemporary religious art 'Fabio Jesus'. You know, the kind where his robe is open to reveal a muscly chest, and he's all suave looking. Shudder. Our solution to the walls is Rembrandt. We have a stunning etching of Christ (http://www.rembrandtpainting.net/rmbrndt_etchings/etchings_h/ir.htm), a detail of the woman taken in adultery, and the return of the prodigal son.

    They bring in the spirit to me more than any of the traditional LDS stuff, and they also satisfy my need for beauty on the walls and the gospel.

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  20. I love this post! We don't have much art on our walls, partly because this is our first house and we haven't been there long, partly because I'm a lousy decorator, and partly because I haven't found anything yet that really speaks to me. I do (I'm almost embarrassed to admit) have a couple of Greg Olsen paintings in the kids' rooms–mostly because my mom gave them to me already framed! And we have a painting of the St George temple painted by my husband's uncle (but it's still a pretty mainstream style water color). But nothing in the main rooms except for family pictures, so I appreciate the ideas here.

    I have an LDS friend who does some lovely contemporary paintings (she's big into texture), but I don't know how religious they are: http://jenniferrasmusson.com/home

    This discussion reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Madeline L'Engle's Walking on Water: "Bad art is bad religion, no matter how pious the subject matter." By the same token, I think good art can be very spiritual.

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  21. Oh, I love this topic. As an art history major, I've thought about this a lot. I too love non-representational art because it can be a spiritual experience. It challenges viewers to really think about what they are looking at, and usually brings the piece a little closer to their heart than representational art does.

    Right now, my walls are dotted with photos of my family and the little wonders of life that I love – me and my sister's feet in the sand, a juicy orange hanging ripe on a tree, my brother's hands showing off his rock collection. I also have postcards of my favorite artists on display – Van Gogh, David, Bouguereau, Vermeer, Maggie Michael, Chagall, Van Eyck, Da Vinci, Morris Louis, Giotto. Someday when I graduate, I hope to invest in some larger, nicer prints.

    Of LDS artists, I love Walter Rane, David McAllister, and James Christensen. Their art is uplifting but definitely different from the Greg Olsen variety.

    As Picasso said, "Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday." I believe it is truly a gift from God.

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  22. I can empathize with your particularity for art. When it comes to general religious art or sentiment, I can appreciate a lot of different kinds of art. Where I become particular is with representations of the Savior Himself. I've yet to find one that really speaks to me, but the one that comes the closest is Against the Wind by Liz Lemon Swindle. I love the expression on His face.

    I share your general dislike for Greg Olsen. He's a talented painter but everything he paints, to me, is too polished and bright. Like you said, maybe that works for some people, but it doesn't work for me.

    I've found that the best way to get the sort of art I want is to create it myself. I don't paint, but I have dabbled in photography. Some of my favorite pictures I've ever seen are ones I've taken because of what I saw in them. The quality of the pictures may not be the best or the most artistic, but they invoke what I felt and what inspired me to take them.

    To me, that's worth something.

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  23. Yah, my husband's paintings adorn most of our walls. A few walls have things we traded with his fellow artist friends. And a few walls have more traditional prints of temples or Christ because we wanted some religious reminders on our walls for ourselves, but not all walls are big enough for my husband's (large) paintings.

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  24. Check out Ron Richmond's work http://www.ronrichmond.com

    He's very skilled, which, I think satisfies those whose value judgements go no further than wether or not the work exhibits a certain level of skill, and his work is often allegorical, which satisfies those who would like to think a little when looking at a piece.

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  25. Lovely topic! I've been thinking about my attitude towards what I hang on my walls ever since a woman who moved into our ward said she'd feel moved in when the pictures were on the walls. I told her we've been here 4 years and by that definition we're not moved in yet.

    I'm an artist on long term sabbatical (it's hard to paint with children – I get extremely invested and self absorbed, not to mention the difficulties of the art world rat race). So I have plenty of art work to hang, mine and others, but most of it isn't hanging. Why is that? I ask myself.

    Strict representational works such as Greg Olsen's (AKA it looks like a softly lit photo) is a hollow figure representing the vital and living gospel. Eventually the image itself becomes worshipped and the doctrine, person, or event becomes the artwork, we see them as one in the same. We begin to believe that what the painting portrays is reality. Because of this tendency we have as humans, I understand why God has been strict about graven images and why the church discourages realistic depictions of God.

    There are several famous Mormon works where the artist has taken some license to change the setting and we as a Mormon culture have accepted it as truth because we SEE it. Examples abound – the "Fabio" paintings of BoM heroes, George Washinton praying at Valley Forge(did he really kneel?), etc.- read the doctrinal account of your favorite realistic Mormon painting and see if the details match up.

    When I choose artwork that is obviously just a representation, like the work featured in the post, I am reminded in viewing it that it is only a representation of reality, not reality itself. Just as we are not worshiping the actual structure of the temple in the artwork, but are attempting to be mindful of sacred eternal relationships and concepts when we view a picture of the temple. A less realistic depiction also allows for more values(meanings) than one to be attached to the work.

    The real glory, beauty and majesty of the gospel is impossible to capture in a painting. A painting only captures a fleeting moment in the artist's mind. While it may be beautiful, or life-like, or pleasing to view, it is not "The Gospel". Which is one of the great challenges of being a Mormon artist.

    So after this long rant what do I have on my walls? A Robert Duncan, a Greg Olsen, a photo of the temple, mirrors, and depictions of nature. For me the scenes of nature are the best to remind me of God and the gospel.

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  26. Closest we came to religious art was some photos of fruit at a welfare farm. Religious experience encoded.

    I love that print you've illustrated this post with, temple spires, telephone wires. by Wheeler? first name, please.

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  27. i feel the same way about representational vs. abstract art. i really really dig the color field style. a former co-worker theorized that it was because i worked in a somewhat customer-service related field (museum/library) and so in my leisure i no longer wanted to see people. but i was drawn to it back as an undergrad – but i also had nine roommates, so perhaps there's truth there. my husband likes things in his art. of course, he's a graduate student – so far the theory's pretty solid – and we've basically had bare walls for 9ish years. anyway, here's my budding theory on religious art: for me, my religion is personal – meaning, i guess, my testimony. so for me, religious art that i'd hang in my home is an expression of my religion like bearing my testimony. i was raised in the church, so a good part of my testimony comes out of that – likewise, i have a soft spot for harry anderson's art – but i don't know that i'd hang it in my house – perhaps a small one of Mary and Jesus outside the tomb. but for the rest of my testimony – representing that is tricky. like why movies based on books you read don't always sit right – it's not how you pictured it. as for missionary-ish purposes, i figure the religious books, scriptures, ensigns that we have on our shelves/tables can serve that purpose too – and books are really the dominant adornment in our house anyway. but as for suggestions, i find i like representatonal art better in mediums like woodblocks and stained glass.
    thanks for your links!

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  28. I collected a bunch of new artists from this post…thanks everybody!

    Hmm…religious art in my walls. It's all religious, but I know what you mean so here goes: I have a print by Carl Bloch of Christ with the woman at the well, you've all seen it. I would love to have an uncropped version of this. (I know — I just need to order it…I'll get around to it, I promise. And frame it too.) It's almost square and it's a lovely scene full of yellow light and lyrical natural details. All the light areas are in the background and the foreground, which is in shadow but is fully detailed, is a (beautifully rendered) tree with an old-world well in front of it, on which the Lord is seated looking into the face of the woman, whose hands are on the a water jar, but who is staring at his face. I feel a little silly trying to describe it in words, because Bloch says everything visually without words. The clothing the figures are dressed in, the gesture of their figures, the light and shadow of every form; everything is very natural and enhances the depiction of the little snippet of scripture that inspires this. When it comes to painting the life of Christ, Bloch has very few peers.
    I hope this link works:

    http://www.carlbloch.org/Woman-at-the-Well-large.html

    I am not too moved by some of the more popular modern LDS painters, but others clearly are, and the church is big enough for all varieties of taste. I wish them all well in their work, because there is nothing harder than being a painter.
    I would like to have a Kershisnik or a Christensen print. I don't think I could afford an original. However, maybe I could afford an original by some of these artists with newly launched careers…

    The thing is, with oil paintings at least, prints are not that close to the magic of the original. And prints fade terribly over a few years. The yellows are the first to go. So I am partial to original art. But when it comes to a painter of stature, like Bloch or the old masters, our only choice is a print.

    That letterpress illustration of the SLC temple is a brilliant solution to this problem.

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  29. Currently the religious art I have on my walls are smudges from my children.

    I try, religiously, to keep my walls clean and they try, religiously, to keep them dirty.

    The little angels. (That counts as religious too, doesn't it?)

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  30. Right before the Mt. Timpanogas temple opened some teenager was selling prints of some pictures he had drawn of it. That's what is hanging in my laundry room. My mudroom has a print of Night Hawks because I've always loved that picture, and I'll admit we have a large print of Greg Olson's Noah's Ark in the family room because I thought the dinosaurs were hilarious. There are scattered paintings of Jesus around the house, and a Chad Hawkins Manti Temple that we got as a wedding gift that. In my bedroom I have a print of Van Gogh's Starry Night and my bedspread is a quilt that my mom made to match the painting.

    There's a Leonard Parkin print in the hallway that my husband loves, and my daughter has the Greg Olson castle print in her room because I loved it when I got married 15 years ago and still think it's pretty cool.

    I think you can mix great art and good art as long as you like it and it makes you happy. I'm not too big into religious art, though.

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  31. I realize that he's fallen out of favor so I didn't post this earlier, but in light of his death, I'm just going to mention that I really like Arnold Friberg. Don't have any hanging on my walls, but I think he's an interesting guy and his Book of Mormon artwork appeals to the heroic and epic. Plus, I don't know a single religious artist's work I saw more of as a child than his.

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  32. Carina,
    Thanks so much for the plug! Yes, Greg Olsen is, in fact, a lovely person. Speaking of abstract expressionists, My favorite is Robert Motherwell. And a lot of good LDS artists' names were dropped in the comments.

    About my own work, it feels right to/for me. I hope it connects with other people. Please, go look.

    I read an article once (I can't remember where) that said LDS art tends to be factual narrative (i.e. Joseph Smith actually saw the Father and Son in the grove, and LDS painters document that fact)so traditional realism is completely appropriate. Other religions' art is more symbolic(i.e. expressing esoteric concepts related to the crucifixion). Russian icon painters are not trying to create a snapshot of the event, they're trying to teach why the event is important to a Christian. Realism is not necessary in that case. That's my $.02 worth.

    p.s. Maybe someone would like to build me a decent website in exchange for art?

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  33. We're kindred spirits – I've long railed against Greg Olsen and Abstract Expressionism is my very favorite movement.

    One of my favorite paintings of a religious subject matter is Henry Ossawa Tanner's Annunciation.

    I appreciate that in recent years the Ensign consistently features a section of works of art created by member artists around the world. I enjoy these pieces far more than I do the Greg Olsen and Simon Dewey works that are used to illustrate the articles.

    Ironically enough one of my favorite paintings of the Savior is a Greg Olsen . . .but an older one, before his work got so syrupy sweet.

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  34. I love this post. Rothko is my absolute fave, which is fortunate because I live near DC and the National Gallery has the LARGEST Rothko collection in the world. I think it was Hugh Nibley who described most church art as maudlin and I agree. I have the Cameron Moll SLC temple print and it is gorgeous. It is the only 'religious' art in our home. It is enough.

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  35. Well, I could spend entire days musing through Art museums…like the British museum in London–time stands still while in there.
    Same goes for the Church History Museum or the Art Museum at BYU…I love art in all of it's forms. And you're right in that some talents speak to our hearts stronger than others.
    I have Greg Olsen, Simon Dewey, Liz Lemon Swindle, Walter Rane, Laura Johnson, and original artwork in my home featuring the Savior, Joseph Smith, the Salt Lake Temple, etc. And each of my children have similar artwork in their rooms or in their own homes.
    If it screams "religion" or "I'm a Latter-Day Saint" that's just fine with me. Letting my light shine while I can…

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  36. I have a couple Leonard Parkin originals I am reluctantly looking to sell. The Ark is the most prominent, along with the Boy in Blue. They are absolutely beautiful. Please, only serious inquiries at chatt_early@msn.com

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  37. We move every couple of years, and it just isn't home until my portraits of four generations of ancestors is up. My mom started it a long time ago, and I got copies after my first two kids. There's a basic temple picture to accompany them.

    I don't mind looking at the religious art other people have in their homes, but when I see what the prints cost that you find in the Deseret Book catalog, my jaw drops and I shake my head and just stick with the sepia tone photos. They are connected to ME.

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